Longtime County Clerk Sam Merlino, after officials in Nye County, Nevada, accepted a pitch from a Republican candidate for secretary of state to stop using voting machines for the general election and instead count by hand. decided to walk away from the job. loved.
For Merlino, a Republican, the move was the last straw as his county continued to be consumed with unfounded conspiracy theories about the 2020 election.
“After everyone worked so hard, and then everyone questioned what we’ve been doing for years, it was very frustrating,” Merlino, who resigned two weeks ago, told ABC News. “I loved working with voters, I was always at the polling place on election day. I loved the process.”
Since the 2020 election, states across the country have witnessed a slow exodus of election officials due to unprecedented levels of Misinformation, harassment and threatsAccording to election experts and officials.
And now, with only three months until Election Day, election offices in at least nine states, including Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, Texas and New Jersey, have seen a new wave of departures and early retirements, ABC News has learned.
Elizabeth Howard, senior counsel for the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan think tank that tracks election rules, told ABC News that the loss of so many local election officials is a “significant concern” because “a There is a huge amount of “institutional knowledge that we are missing across the country.”
“Election administration has become increasingly complex over the past few decades, and election officials are constantly trying to balance technology with accuracy and reliability, and having an accurate voter registration list and casting a ballot for eligible voters as much as possible. Make it as easy as you can. Counted,” Howard said.
‘We can’t do our real work’
In Gillespie County, Texas, the county’s entire three-person elections department resigned last week over threats and misinformation, an employee told the Fredericksburg Standard.
“It’s concerning that an election is getting closer and now county officials are scrambling to form a team that will run the election in November,” said Sam Taylor, a spokesman for the Texas Secretary of State. Qualified and trained.” State John Scott.
Taylor told ABC News that Texas has seen a 30% turnover rate among county officials over the past two years, with several officers across the state resigning because of threats of violence.
In a report released this month by the US House Oversight and Reform Committee, election administrators expressed concerns about staffing before midterm.
,[T]The election officer job has changed dramatically over the years and is not a position anyone can learn from in just a few months,” Arizona election officials said in the report. “Becoming an industry expert takes years. Huh. The fact that so many of us are leaving the field should worry everyone across the country.”
The report detailed how false claims of electoral fraud in the 2020 election have led election administrators to face a combination of threats, lawsuits and misinformation that, as one election official said, “we need to know that”. distracting to the point where we can’t do our actual work.”
‘Disrespect and contempt’
Efforts to discredit and reverse election results have been promoted and supported nationally by MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, who False conspiracy theories pushed About the 2020 election after Donald Trump lost his re-election bid. Last weekend, Lindell hosted the “Moment of Truth Summit,” where hundreds of people gathered in Springfield, Missouri, to hear him and other election deniers rail against voting machines and fight the 2020 vote, among other things. discussed their ongoing efforts. , petitioning election officials for voting machine information and election data.
Among those who attended the event was Colorado County Clerk Tina Peters, who became a prominent figure in the electoral denier movement last year when she was accused and then indicted. Election tampering allegations The election software he used for his county was shut down by a consultant after officials told him that screenshots of the software appeared on right-wing websites. Peters pleaded not guilty in early August.
Peters, who lost the Republican primary in June in his bid to become Colorado Secretary of State, gave a detailed account to summit attendees about how he had paid for recounts in that race, and asked him to face the election results. I urged to be “courageous”.
“Tina Peters lost, started talking about the fraud and how election officials are working on it,” Matt Crane, director of the Colorado County Clerks Association, told ABC News. “She lost by 15 points and yet again requested a recalculation that takes away from the clerks who are otherwise working to prepare for the general election. All this continues to put pressure on the clerks. “
Like many other states, Crane said Colorado has seen election officials resign or retire early ahead of November’s election.
In Florida, election observer Mark Early told ABC News that state election officials “feel a hatred” from those who denied the 2020 election.
“It’s the disrespect and disdain that your neighbor can have these days,” said Early. “Now the dangers are out there and people are looking at you out of the corner of their eye and just nodding their heads or just very bluntly coming up to you and saying negative things, even if it’s not a death threat. Are.”
“It’s all taking a toll on our ability to hold elections,” explained Early, who said there have been many resignations and early retirements. “We’re losing staff members.”
A former Georgia election worker testified House hearing on January 6 Violent threats to him and his family landed him out of a job in late June when former President Trump and his lawyers spread lies about his actions while counting the Georgia 2020 ballots.
“It’s turned my life upside down. I don’t give out my business card anymore… I don’t want anyone to know my name,” testified Wandrea Moss.
As more and more election administration positions are left vacant, Howard said a recent Brennan Center survey showed officials are concerned about who will replace those leaving.
Howard said, “Some election officials are concerned that those who are going to replace outgoing election officials believe the lies that are about how our elections are run and are not going to understand how the system really works. does.” “Certainly, if you have someone who is disenfranchised who is responsible for running the election, that’s a concern.”
Even more worrying, Howard said she expects another exodus of election workers after the 2022 election cycle – potentially leaving even more vacancies ahead of the 2024 presidential cycle.
‘It’s just too much’
In Nevada, too, the past few months have seen a wave of resignations in at least half a dozen counties as election denials continue to challenge the 2020 results.
While many departing executives cite non-work-related issues as the reason for their departure, many point to how difficult their jobs have become in the past two years because of increased scrutiny and growing hostility from skeptics. have faced.
Last month, Washoe County Electoral Registrar Deanna Spicula resigned after 15 years with the registrar’s office. She told the Nevada Independent in January that she had received death threats and was concerned for the safety of her front-line election workers, who face voters in person.
At the time, Spicula said she had already lost a staff member to another county department, but she loved her job and remained in her position. But six months later — two weeks after Nevada’s state primary — she submitted her resignation.
Washoe County Communications Manager Bethany Drysdale said of the harassment faced by local election workers over the past few months, “it’s overwhelming, including their cars being chased and called “traitors.”
“It’s really difficult to drag on for a really long time and face hostility from the public,” Drysdale said. “Our interim registrar of voters is really focused on keeping hours down and making sure no one is too overwhelmed or overworked, so they can really be here and give their all during the election. can.”
In Pennsylvania, Berks County Election Director Paige Reigner submitted her resignation this month after May’s state primary, when the Pennsylvania Department of State sued Berks and two other counties for phasing out mail-in ballots, including security. The date was not handwritten on the envelope.
And in Pennsylvania’s Luzerne County, Elections Director Michael Susek resigned last month after only eight months on the job, to work for an organization “to advance election integrity and the profession as a whole at the national level.” Committed to”, according to local reports. His departure makes him the state’s fourth county elections director to step down since 2019.
Robin Major, the board of elections administrator in Monmouth County, New Jersey, said that for small local election offices, losing just one or two employees could put a lot of pressure on the department.
Major told ABC News that his office has lost two of its eight employees in recent months, one of whom is retiring and another moving to a different department.
“I think we’re seeing it all over the state,” Major said. “We have seen many colleagues in our professional union who have decided to retire because the amount of work is too much and we have not been properly compensated” – a situation required by counties by a new statewide mandate, said Major. it occurs. Conduct an election audit after each general election.
Major also said that “people questioning things” put an additional burden on his office.
“We are getting a high number of requests on a daily basis which are impossible to fulfill,” she said. “So even when you’re trying to run an election, it puts a lot of pressure on.”
Sylvia Albert, director of voting and elections at the liberal watchdog group Common Cause, said increased retirements and resignations meant the country should invest in “the infrastructure to train the next generation of election workers”.
“We’re going to run an election and we’re going to make sure people can vote — we just have to use all the hands on deck,” she said of the upcoming midterm. “But we must look for a long-term solution to a fair investment in the election system.”
ABC News’ Ali Dukakis, Alexandra Myers, Kate Holland, Patrick Linehan, Sarah Avery and Lucien Brugman contributed to this report.